Episode 3 of the HBO series figured to be the best segment to date given that we would likely see behind the scenes access to the December 23rd matchup in Washington, DC. This episode didn't disappoint in that area, and in my opinion, this was a fantastic episode from start to finish.
For starters, we see the physical toll that the game takes on its players. It starts off with some repair work to Caps F Mike Knubles' broken jaw. Despite the horrific injury, he talks about how "eventaully your card gets pulled" and that he is thankful it wasn't worse. Such is life in the NHL. If you ever doubted how tough these guys are, you are seeing the proof. We see the aftermath of a puck to face on Penguins D Ben Lovejoy. In one of the more touching moments, we see F Evgeni Malkin deliver the team shovel (awarded to the player who impacts that night's game most) to the room where Lovejoy is being attended to by the team physician, Dr. Charles Burke. Geno even lightens the mood a bit, offering to Lovejoy: "You look awesome. Girls love." Lovejoy is near tears while descriping his first NHL goal, which is funny because his face is swollen beyond recognition, yet it is his lifelong dream that provides .
After that, the team departs and the two most startling moments of the episode are revealed on the Penguins flight. First, we see G Brent Johnson in a sleeveless half-sweater. He makes sure to let us know that is only done "out of solidarity" with fellow G Marc-Andre Fleury. As Fleury starts to talk, Sid mentions Lovejoy's face. Nonchalantly he offers that "They said the pressure would make it grow. It did."
The majority of the episode deals with the Penguins-Capitals in game showdown. It starts with a glimpse at how the coaches break the matchup down. This is the moment hardcore fans have been waiting for. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau mentions how Malkin is prone to being easily agitated and will respond by taking bad penalties. As we see in game, his words come true. Pens coaches Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato break it down at the hotel. Granato discusses the transition game the Caps employ and how turnovers and changes of possession require quick backtracking.
In possibly my favorite moment of the series, the HBO producers split up the Bylsma/Boudreau pre-game speeches. They are intertwined in a such a manner that you could think both teams are in the same room, giving the same speech, working towards the same goal. Remarkable. If you haven't seen this, please do yourself a favor and find it immediately.
In game content, provides more glimpse at how the referees and linesman work and a huddle to decide on a delay of game call for the Penguins shooting it over the glass. There are explanations to coaches, and abusive from the stars. Ovie nearly goes postal at center ice after a tripping call and Sid drops six f-bombs after a non-call on an offensive rush. I'm actually surprised at how much abuse the refs take. To be honest, I don't think it's necessary. They must have very thick skin to not ring up more penalties for this interaction with the players.
As I requested, we see Sid discussing strategy with Chris Kunitz and Geno. He is discussing contingencies for what to do depending on the move a defenseman makes. Again, the locker room footage of each team's is interspersed, including Bylsma saying "keep hitting Green, Rupper" and "this goalie isn't that good". He does. This repeats after the 2nd period. Truly a pleasure to watch.
The third period provides more referee time. We hear an explanation to Washington D Scott Hannan about what is and is not acceptable in a post-whistle scrum with Pens F Tyler Kennedy, ending with ref Kelly Sutherland stating very matter of factly, "if he's going to go in there, he's going to take a little shit".
By the overtime, we hear Sutherland discuss why they are taking their time after a potential Mike Green goal. We then see the Warroom in Toronto, which handles all video replay for the NHL. If you've ever been watching or in arena during the delay, you know know what is being said and how it goes down. Again, thank you HBO.
After the shootout, the action moves to Heinz Field right after the Steeler game (which took place on the same night). We see Steeler coach Mike Tomlin, TE Matt Spaeth, and QB Ben Roethlisberger. LB's James Farrior and James Harrison are interviewed. Harrison declares that while he can't sake enough to play well, he thinks he could be an NHL enforcer. I'm certainly not going to tell him he can't.
The NHL's Christmas break (yes, teams are required to be off and close their locker rooms) shows us a shopping trip for Boudreau and his sons. Give the guy credit, he's not afraid to play to the camera by declaring, "it's never too early for ice cream." Caps F Eric Fehr and his stunning wife Rachel prep toys for some of Washington's residents in a gift outreach program. We also see what a Swedish Christmas looks and sounds like courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom, that Mike Green is douchey enough to wear a Yankees hat, what goes on at Mike Rupp's house, and how Dan Bylsma preps a turkey. While there may be things that happen in the episode after this, if I've learned anything in life, it's that you always go out with a laugh.